It has been a busy couple of weeks launching my latest title FOR MY SINS, a historical novel for adults about Mary Queen of Scots. And Mary herself appeared at my first launch in Blackwell’s, Edinburgh. She sat very demurely to one side like a pale ghost (courtesy of Artemis Scotland) while I talked about the writing of FMS in front of windows that rattled and shook in a storm. We were yards away from the scene of Darnley’s murder at Kirk o’ Field.
The next stop was Waterstones, Byres Road, and tonight it will be my local library, Dunblane. I’ve been taking my audience on a mental journey into the past. I am the curator of that journey, guiding them into that distant realm which we can only imagine, where darkness held sway, where death was an everyday occurrence, and there was definitely no WiFi… Here are some pics of me flapping my arms about.
Here are some photos of what we’ve been up to over the past few weeks.
And the pointers or lessons?
Writers care about the world & what is happening in it. It’s just not about escapism.
You can imagine other people’s lives…
Even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
Keep a journal or diary.
You can write about what is familiar… or unfamiliar.
Writing can be used as a Way of Healing too.
You all have a story to tell… either the one you are living now, one from the past, or one that you have yet to live…
I’m into my fifth week as Writer in Residence at Castlebrae Community High School in Craigmillar, Edinburgh. Here is why it’s so important that school librarians continue to exist, and that they receive funding for projects like this. I’m working very closely with the school librarian Sylvia Gorman, and English teachers at the school, in particular Fiona McCulloch, to create fun and inspiring workshops. So far the pupils are really engaged. They’re looking at books in a new way, studying their covers, working in groups and a large circle to discuss their own book proposals in a way that brings them confidence and self-esteem. It’s a brilliant little school which helps many who might be under-privileged or disadvantaged. There are some in the group from places like Romania, Syria and Poland, and I was struck by how they all help each other to cross language barriers with humour, tolerance and understanding. By the end of the workshops, all 30 pupils will have produced their own portfolio, a poly-pocket delight of ideas, letters, novel openings, blurbs, and cover ideas which will be their own book proposal to a potential editor. I get to choose the top 5 who are rewarded with a prize. If anyone needs convincing that school librarians should continue to be supported, they can look no further than a group of disadvantaged S1s who are prepared to sit and discuss books with each other.
So… why Mary? Well, because she had a talent for escaping, through tunnels and graveyards, on horseback, via boat, across silent lakes, through forests, across moorland. And, she was accused of murdering her second husband in order to marry her third…
The question is – is she or is she not the culprit of one of history’s unsolved murder mysteries? I think I know the answer to that one… and (just like most things in history, past, present and future) it’s not clear-cut.
This has been a pure labour of love, begun when I was 22, living in Edinburgh in a bedsit on Buccleugh Street, tramping the cobbles, in search of inspiration. That’s when my first drafts of this novel were written. Even back then in 1990 I called it FOR MY SINS, a quote from the very last letter of Mary, Queen of Scots (which I photographed in the museum), and I knew exactly who my Mary was – what her voice sounded like, what her insecurities and fears and hopes were, and her bravery. I knew what she felt, what she thought, what she regretted. I never thought I would see this novel published. I revisited it in later years, then my son Micah was born, then Martha, and life moved on. I didn’t forget about it – I knew it was a novel which should have seen the light of day and sat on bookshelves. I believe in it immensely even now – especially now. Two years ago, I opened a cupboard and it literally fell at my feet. Bouf! Don’t forget me. Now I have a cover I love, I’ve just sent off the dedication and acknowledgements to Fledgling, and it’s to be released in February. My first novel for adults – the first I ever wrote! I simply cannot tell you what this means to me… apologies for outburst of emotion! It’s been rewritten and rewritten, and this is its final form.
It took me a while to read this, and its sequel BRING UP THE BODIES, but I did it. I finished both. Darkly intelligent, with such concise accuracy, Hilary Mantel has imagined the subtle nuances most of us would not have even thought about. She has explored a darkly maligned character in history – Thomas Cromwell – in such a way that she has brought him to life with all his flaws and virtues, describing him not as a monster but a man of his time, and even a man before his time, the father of modern democracy. The history we were taught at school is sometimes so different – a bad reputation sticks. I’m not saying he was an angel, because he wasn’t, but Hilary Mantel portrays him as human. I particularly like the way in which Cromwell is mocked by his aristocratic contemporaries for being a blacksmith’s son, and the way she touches on the class system here – which actually became more rigid and difficult to transcend or overcome in later centuries. Well worth the read even if you dip in and out because of sheer size of it. I left my bookmark in, and went back to it later, and was able to completely get back into the swing of it.
Had a fabulous day yesterday visiting Breadalbane Academy in Aberfeldy. The pupils were delightful, and they were very eager to buy books – unfortunately I forgot to take any photos of the pupils themselves, just an empty auditorium before the event itself… so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
The early morning drive to Aberfeldy was stunning, the sun touching the hills through the mist. There were pockets and hollows of mist exactly like Macbeth country. I kept expecting to see the Weird Sisters. The only weird thing was my PowerPoint though… Saw a loch with reeds which had a perfect mirror-like reflection. Crossed over a moor, then dipped down into the valley which was full of mist, exactly like a bowl of cream with mountains showing through the far side. Honestly, it was breathtaking…
Treated myself to lunch in The Watermill afterwards, bought myself two books – THE WOLF WILDER by Katherine Rundell and WOLF WINTER by Cecilia Ekback – then drove to Kenmore and walked around the loch where the crannog sits out on the water. Used this for inspiration later with my creative writing pupils, then I dashed out to Drama in the evening (we’re doing Treasure Island… don’t ask!!!!!) then finally washed up by the fire, where it’s best.
An empty auditorium at Breadalbane Academy 15 mins before I was about to perform
Cauldhame, complete with bird noises, inspiration for my novels
The Watermill, Aberfeldy for lunch, checking they’ve got me in stock!
A mad dash to Kenmore to soak up a bit of atmosphere
More atmosphere… very brooding
Home at last, to where it’s best….